Belgium will organise voluntary repatriations of citizens from the Chinese province of Hubei, the epicentre of a deadly coronavirus outbreak which Chinese authorities have struggled to contain.
The Belgian embassy in Hubei's capital city of Wuhan said that Belgian nationals seeking to be evacuated from China would be flown back to Belgium on the night of Friday to Saturday.
A total of 15 Belgian nationals are currently known to be in the Chinese province, but not all of them want to be repatriated, according to reports by HLN.
News of the planned repatriations come as the death toll from the outbreak reached 170 on Thursday and the number of people sickened by the disease rose to nearly 8,000.
The World Health Organisation said the current outbreak is caused by a novel strain of the coronavirus, which induces pneumonia and is part of the same family of the common cold and SARS viruses.
While all confirmed coronavirus deaths have taken place within China, efforts to stop the virus from spreading abroad have been unsuccessful, with more than 100 cases confirmed in at least 20 countries.
The first case of the coronavirus in Europe appeared in France on 25 January, and the first human-to-human transmission was confirmed in Germany at the start of the week.
A flight which left Portugal on Thursday morning is one of at least two aircraft which will serve to evacuate around 350 European citizens from China, in a mission which will be partly funded by an EU civil protection program.
The Brussels Times